January 12, 2011

How dangerous is the lunatic fringe?

Not hugely, it would appear to me. There doesn't seem to be much justification for rounding up all the eccentrics, as is so often proposed after mass shootings.

The numerator of psycho killers like Jared Loughner doesn't appear to be large, and it may be shrinking due to better medications and the like. This story is big news for a bunch of reasons (e.g., the press wants to use it to launch Obama's re-election campaign the way Timothy McVeigh launched Clinton's re-election in 1995), one of which is that it's a man-bites-dog story: Members of Congress and judges don't get shot very often at all.

On the other hand, the denominator of people who suffer major mental problems at some point in their lives is very large.

As a small child, I recall seeing a black comedian on TV around 1967 or so telling a joke about how scientists say that 1 out of every 4 people are crazy... so think of 3 of your friends. They seem okay, right? So ... Congrats! (I can't remember who the comedian was ... perhaps it was Dick Gregory. God only knows what this fraction is for stand-ups.)

I remember being shocked at the time by the 1 out of 4 number. 

I'm not anymore. 

I'm not being snarky. I've personally known a huge number of people who have gone through at least one major mental health problem. It's not like one out of four people are crazy at present. But that one out of four  people will go through at least one sizable mental health episode during their lifetimes seems utterly plausible to me by now. The amount of suffering and sadness in this world caused by mental illness is immense.

What's more surprising to me now, and thus gladdening, is how many of these people have gotten better: some with medicine, some with therapy, some who knows how or why, but they've done it.

P.S. Jerry Pournelle writes
Allowing the non-violent madmen to live among us is a price of liberty; and allowing physicians and police to lock people away because they are mad is conceding a power to the authorities that often proves unwise, and sometimes is simply an adjunct to tyranny.

51 comments:

adsfasdfsf said...

Only 1/4? How does one explain the success of guys like Bush or Obama? No, I think the majority are batshit crazy all the time.

l said...

This will probably brand me as a lunatic, but I am more threatened by a Congress that would presume to define mental illness (and do something about it) than I am by the nut cases who roam free.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you are on fire right now. What's it feel like to be in the zone? Keep shooting.

I am not crazy btw. But all of you must remember- the monkey comes at midnight.

Dan in DC

Anonymous said...

"The numerator of psycho killers like Jared Loughner doesn't appear to be large, and it may be shrinking due to better medications and the like. "

How many Loughners were walking around in the 40s and 50s? And how many people got randomly shot?

Fernandinande said...

Off topic, but pretty funny:

"Affirmative Action explained"

http://www.youtube.com/user/Battlefield315#p/u/2/hWS_MDJSiEE

"Equal protection laws should only apply if someone's intentions are good."

Anonymous said...

Psychiatrists will tell you that mental illnesses such as depression/anxiety etc are, in reality, incurable.
Medication however does act as a palliative somewhat.

FrankTalk said...

Steve said:

"The amount of suffering and sadness in this world caused by mental illness is immense."

And conversely, what of the amount of mental illness caused by suffering and sadness in this world?

SGOTI said...

I'd say the lunatic fringe is pretty damned dangerous. Why I mean a few thousand of them in the a nation of over 300 million legal citizens control the news, much of finance, wield outsized political power due to lobbying, etc.

Or wait, is that the national "elite"? I get confused.

Tino said...

I wonder if higher risk of mental illness is an evolutionary bottleneck for making the brain larger and more complex?

Kylie said...

People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who are unmedicated usually aren't violent in a dangerous sense. Nevertheless, they can make the living conditions of those around them very nearly unbearable. I had a schizophrenic tenant who thought life was much more fun self-medicating with alcohol and recreational drugs in the company of whatever dregs she could pick up off the street than it was taking her prescribed medication. By law, she could not be forced to take her medication, nor could she be evicted. She got SSI diability so in essence, her fellow tax-paying tenants were paying her to live near them and torment them with her noise, fights (including gun fights), house fires, etc. We lost several good tenants who moved out rather than live in the same building with her.

Finally, after years of misery, her mother worked with us to move her out of the building.

Nor is she an exception, as I learned while living in a neighborhood with a high number of severely mentaly ill people.

I would not knowingly have anything to do with anyone officially diagnosed with many of the Axis I or Axis II disorders. It's the main reason I nixed my husband's idea of us getting into rental property. Thanks to the Disability Act of 1971, mentally ill people actually have more rights than the rest of us. They know this and they take full advantage of it. After all, being crazy doesn't mean you're stupid.

Anonymous said...

but I am more threatened by a Congress that would presume to define mental illness (and do something about it) than I am by the nut cases who roam free

No you're not. I've dealt with the system for twenty plus years from several different angles. There are very dangerous people out there. Because we do not institutionalize some of them and they will not go to even a 'club house' during the day, they get 'keepers' who follow them through their day.

This is rare but it does happen. What these people do rarely makes it into court (although it ties up our system until the prosecutor drops it or shifts it). If you or I did what these people do (trying to tear the eyes out of people who annoy them for example and maiming people for life) we'd never get out of prison. These guys are out of the mental institution six months after they've been on their meds.

I saw a guy get all 'Three Strikes' at once kicking in an old man's door, kicking his teeth in then following him down the street screaming at him. The guy believed that the old man was stealing his girl friend (the guy literally believed he kept her in a whiskey bottle). This was not his first run in. He was arrested (me), prosecuted, and sentenced to several years in prison (plead down).

He was back on the street less than two months later. He simply walked away from from his facility and the state refused to get him. I was privately told by his case worker they were afraid of him and would not keep him.

He continues to commit crimes to this day. Sometimes out of malice sometimes because he believes things like little men follow him throwing rocks. He's just one. I know of many, many cases. Some more dangerous than his.

Polistra said...

One thing that especially bothers me ... Every time we get into one of these "round up the oddballs" fads, it's the Republican talkers who push it hardest.

Talkers are by definition extroverts and jock types, so I guess it's understandable. To them, all quiet people are crazy.

But they don't seem to realize who defines 'oddball'. The shrinks who write the official DSM definitions are leftists, and they have always followed Stalin in listing conservatism as a disorder.

Carol said...

I think the time between age 18 and 23 or so tends to be a dangerous and even psychotic time, anyway, if a young person is not focused and on his way to some legitimate goal. I certainly went off the rails at the time, making strange rash decisions, questioning everything. The impending transition to adulthood is quite intimidating to the unprepared.

Anonymous said...

I think it's clear that Loughner is schizophrenic - some would say "schizophrenia or bipolar disorder" but if a psychiatrist diagnosed him as bipolar it would be "with schizophrenic tendencies" (and in any case it's not clear that they are separate diseases outside of psychiatric convention: http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=new-study-bipolar-disorder-and-schi-2009-01-15 is suggestive in this vein, especially when you consider that family histories tend to bias a diagnosis and create path-dependency). But schizophrenia alone doesn't explain why he would kill 6 people outside a Safeway, because schizophrenics, like everyone else, understand that killing people is not a good thing.

A friend said that Loughner liked to "push people's buttons", in explanation for the fact that he listed "Mein Kampf" as one of his favorite books - because his mother was Jewish. And along the lines of the dog that did nothing in the night, I've noticed that nobody has come along saying "he used to be such a nice boy" or otherwise expressing confusion that Loughner could do such a thing.

Although we still don't know much about the boy, my guess is that he was a complete jerk, if not a sociopath, before he showed any signs of a schizophrenic breakdown.

I think you could make a better case for trying to identify and institutionalize sociopaths than schizophrenics - sociopaths do try to hide, but generally don't succeed as well as they think. And for that matter schizophrenics sometimes hide it much better than Loughner; in my college years I became convinced that I had a secret mission to save the world by traveling through time, and that some of my classmates were plotting to murder me. Also cannibals from the Amazon, who I thought were stalking me on the Internet. This is typical of how, and when, schizophrenia manifests itself - some people start hearing voices too, but many if not most never do. Anyway I kept these sentiments to myself, and while I ended up dropping out of college and did not exactly realize my career potential, nobody noticed that I was hopping mad until I got my delusions under control, found a steady job and more or less put my life back together.

The curious thing about paranoid schizophrenia is that people sometimes recover (or mostly recover) within a few years without any help - probably because as time passes, they notice that the empirical backing for their newly-acquired worldview is rather slim. Nobody has murdered them yet, they haven't saved the world yet, and so on. This, of course, is another reason that rounding up all the crazies and throwing them in a cell is not such a brilliant idea. If you want somebody to calm down and realize that nobody is out to get him, a visit from the nice young men in the clean white coats is not going to help.

Anonymous said...

I remember being shocked at the time by the 1 out of 4 number.

I'm not anymore.

I'm not being snarky. I've personally known a huge number of people who have gone through at least one major mental health problem. It's not like one out of four people are crazy at present. But that one out of four people will go through at least one sizable mental health episode during their lifetimes seems utterly plausible to me by now. The amount of suffering and sadness in this world caused by mental illness is immense.


Having come into intimate contact with mental illness for the first time in my life - only in just the last year - I have to agree.

If you come from a "normal" family [like I did], and if you spent your entire life around "normal" friends and "normal" colleagues [like I did], then you are going to be shocked at the power of mental illness when you first cross paths with it.

PS: If you are normal, and if your family is normal, and if all of your friends and colleagues in your life have been normal, then get down on your hands and knees and thank your lucky stars for having had such a good life.

PPS: And if you are a bachelor dating some chick [or a gal dating some guy], and if you ever have just the faintest inkling that your paramour might be nursing a little problem upstairs, then turn and run as fast as you can, and never look back.

PPPS: And NEVER date someone who has EVER put an SSRI into their mouths and swallowed it.

NEVER.

Anonymous said...

If you remove depression and anger management issues due to relationships breaking up, I think we are down into the single digits again.

sabril said...

It would be nice if there was some way that this guy could have been put on a "no-gun" list. Unfortunately, I can't think of any way to do it without setting up a system which is wide open to use as a vehicle for systematically abusing peoples' rights.

Anonymous said...

I like to steal Steve Sailer's opinions and pass them off as my own. After a while, I actually believe I thought of them.

Damn, I'm smart.

dearieme said...

That's all very calm of you, Steve, but won't THEY decide it's a crisis not to be wasted?

Svigor said...

The I's have it; the government with a lot of power to designate people "crazy" and lock them up has a lot of power to turn on you when you become a nuisance.

First they came for the crazies...

Anonymous said...

"The amount of suffering and sadness in this world caused by mental illness is immense."

Mental illness isn't the cause, it's the effect. Depression doesn't cause symptoms, it is the label we give to those with syptoms. AIDS doesn't cause anything.

Formerly.JP98 said...

Has anyone yet mentioned Michael Laudor? He was the schizophrenic but "brilliant" Yale Law School student who gained a modicum of fame after he was favorably profiled in the NYT in the mid-1990s. Hollywood was going to make a film about his life -- "The Laws of Madness" I believe it was to be called -- until he murdered his pregnant girlfriend in 1998. He pleaded insanity and, AFAIK, is locked away in a mental institution.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Tucson case ends up the same way.

http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/l/michael_b_laudor/index.html

Anonymous said...

Ah! Dick Gregory. He brought us one supremely funny moment.

I remember when he first came up with appearances on Jack Paar. He was funny but real funny - certainly not as funny as the apolitical and safe Nipsey Russel. Gregory became more and more political and less and less funny.

He morphed into an "activist" who got on television not to tell jokes but to make pronouncements - the last of which I remember was when he told a frightened white America that when the inevitable race war began only he would be able to speak to both sides. He said this on many occasions. He was, so he said, the indispensable lynch pin who could translate and adjudicate between the races.

His day came with the Watts Riots. It seemed that it was finally happening - race war. So Gregory goes to the streets with a film crew and walks out from behind the barricades to communicate.

The rioters shot him. Funny guy.

Albertosaurus

Whiskey said...

I disagree with Pournelle. People with mental illness CAN get help. But it requires institutionalizing. Can this be abused? Sure, so can welfare, K-12 education, or any other government program or power.

Much of the homeless are mentally ill. Quality of life for everyone (not least the homeless) is improved by putting them institutions where they can get treatment and then, for many of them, follow up at-home treatment to make them productive people instead of drags on the economy and society.

There was some economic analysis done of the cost of a murder, I think it came out to $22 million a piece total social/economic loss. So locking up Loughner and getting him treatment would have saved $132 million right off the bat, not including injuries of the wounded.

It seems a compelling case to me.

Anonymous said...

adsfasdfs,
"Only 1/4? How does one explain the success of guys like Bush or Obama?"

They got a bunch of campaign money from plutocrats to represent the interests of plutocrats. Let's not pretend the U.S. is a democracy, now... if you held all the globalist policies up to referendum they would be shot down one after another.

Anonymous said...

Certainly we have a debt to the mentally ill. For their sake and our own we need to take care of them. That being the case, we can not afford to provide housing and medical care to an unlimited number of impoverished low IQ immigrants. We can afford to either take care of the immigrants or to take care of mentally ill citizense. One or the other

many successful political campaigns in Europe have succeeded in cutting off immigration based on just such an argument.

It gets no play here on Isteve, but in Denmark the pro immigration crowd was completely defeated and Denmark has almost zero net immigration of NAMs right now.

An argument that resources are limited can win,

That is not to say that you can get the large crowd pushing for western civilization to commit suicide to stop their bleating. Far from it. they will continue to argue for more immigration. But they can be defeated in the ballot box.

This has nothing to do with the philo semite vs anti semite arguments.
The group that wants western civ to die contains plenty of anti semites.
For example, the elite in Norway hate Israel and hate jews. In fact the elite in Norway was notable for being more pro hitler than the elite of any other nation in the world. If you read the records from the 1930s the elite of Germany was really not enthusiastic about Hitler or the final solution, but the elite in Norway was enthusiastic.

Even today you would be hard pressed to find any nation in Europe more anti semetic than Norway. At the same time the Norwegian elite spouts hate towards jews it also aggressively and obsessively encourages massive immigration of NAMs in to Norway.

Clearly the desire to see western civ destroyed through immigration has nothing to do with attitude towards Israel. There can be defenders of western civ that are pro israel and defenders of western civ that are anti israel

Anonymous said...

In any given venue, be it a church, school, workplace or activity club half the people there are crazy. Which makes me feel better as I take my lithium every night

Anonymous said...

One other thing I am learning about mental illness [as a warning to any bachelors or bachelorettes at iSteve who might be about to make a terrible mistake in their romantic lives]: The mentally ill will NOT admit that there is anything unusual about how they go about living their lives.

Trying to get a mentally ill person to admit that they have a problem is like trying to get an alcholic to admit that they drink too much.

It's like talking to a brick wall.

ricpic said...

As someone who has had two nervous breakdowns, which I stumbled through and emerged from after about 6 months in the case of the first and a little over a year in the second, and without medication, in other words the brain righted itself given enough time, I am fairly confident saying that such episodes did not classify me as a lunatic and don't classify the hundreds of thousands who suffer through similar incidences as lunatics either. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is a huge gulf between those who walk around in a fractured state for awhile and those who hear voices or follow instructions of revenge against those who have wounded them or are out to get them. Was I crazy during the period of my nervous breakdowns? I suppose so. But I was no threat, heck I was in no shape to be a threat to anyone. This is the case for most crazies.

Carol said...

um, Albertosaurus, you made up that last part, yes?

Carol said...

Nope, Albert is right...lol.

Heckler said...

Liberal truth operates as follows:

1. Temperatures are up.

'It's due to global warming.'

2. Temperatures are down.

'It's due to global warming.'

Anonymous said...

"How many Loughners were walking around in the 40s and 50s? And how many people got randomly shot?"

Quite a few. Just because they didn't shoot someone famous doesn't mean they didn't shoot someone.

asdfasdasdf said...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703791904576075851892478080.html

"Even in a setting that includes the raw and often raunchy thoughts of young men, Mr. Loughner's postings were startling. They show an obsession with language..."

Obsessed with linguistics? Now I know who was really responsible: Noam Chomsky!!!

SFG said...

"Clearly the desire to see western civ destroyed through immigration has nothing to do with attitude towards Israel. There can be defenders of western civ that are pro israel and defenders of western civ that are anti israel"

Yeah, a lot of Evangelicals are pro-Israel, but they still seem to want Western Civ to survive.

American Jews are pro-immigration and pro-Israel. Paleos are anti-immigration and anti-israel. Lefty Gentiles are pro-immigration and anti-Israel. Just because you're engaged in a war with the American Jewish elite doesn't mean everyone else is taking the same sides.

Anonymous said...

Albertosaurus is correct.

See here.

"I put my back to the cops and my front to [the crowd], Gregory said. "I said, 'Ya'll get out of here. Run. Get out of here! All of ya'll are going to get wiped out!' And then, pow! ... they shot me."

adsfasdfas said...

"Lefty Gentiles are pro-immigration and anti-Israel."

Lefty gentiles are CRITICAL of Israel but not anti-Israel. Big difference.

Dahlia said...

I agree with Whiskey. Homicidal tendencies is rare and extreme, and per Kylie's comment, there's a whole lot of suffering that flies under the radar for most of society except for the individual and/or his family and neighbors.

Reading through the comments made me feel kind of bad: I am related to and know far more crazy people!

My mother-in-law is severly bipolar and drove her family into poverty due to spending and gambling. She just left my FIL and he expects that one day she'll commit suicide and has prepared my husband for that eventuality. To my knowledge, she has never been treated.

While the paranoid schizophrenic I'm related to is from my upper-class family, mental illnesses seem to mostly affect the lower classes and perhaps explains the divide between views on institutions for the mentally ill.

I believe that for many, it is cruel and unusual punishment to be completely free.

Currently, I know someone addicted to pain drugs who has, while under the influence, shot off his gun in the house hitting a couch and several walls and gotten into a car accident.

He is constantly high and I can't remember when he was last sober.

His parents are in complete denial and the mother, being influential personally and politically, has been successful in getting everything mostly swept under the rug. The uncle who is a cop was called out NOT to take away his guns, but help circle the wagons. This uncle even supplies the pain meds he's addicted to per the mother's request. The parents think he can get better of his own accord and everyone else is overreacting. It is only by accident anyone finds out about these incidents, surely there are more.

I asked my mom about getting him baker acted, but she said the laws were such that it would be impossible because his parents' word that everything is fine and he is not a danger would be enough to prevent it. I've talked to other relatives to intervene, but the parents are brick walls.
I'll be surprised if he lives another three years. Or he is going to kill somebody in an accident.

Anonymous said...

Me: Trying to get a mentally ill person to admit that they have a problem is like trying to get an alcholic to admit that they drink too much.

It's like talking to a brick wall.


Dahlia: I've talked to other relatives to intervene, but the parents are brick walls.

Exactly.

BTW Dahlia, I had you in mind when I was talking about [potential] bachelorettes at iSteve, but it sounds as though you have enough experience with mental illness to RUN NOT WALK THE HELL AWAY FROM IT in any possible boyfriend.

Intimate contact with mental illness will absolutely ruin your life.

And, as you indicated, these mentally ill families will close up ranks about one another and lie to the entire world about it [which includes lying to themselves about it].

STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM THE MENTALLY ILL.

THEY WILL RUIN YOU.

Kylie said...

"these mentally ill families will close up ranks about one another and lie to the entire world about it [which includes lying to themselves about it]."

In fairness, I have to say that's not always true. Off-hand, I can think of two diagnosed schizophrenics who chose to stop taking their meds. In both cases, the families came to their homes, pleading with them to resume treatment and even telling the neighbors (me and others in the building) that there was nothing they could do legally and they were sorry for all the trouble their relations were causing. I really felt for these families who faced up to their kin's illness and tried their best to be supportive and do the right thing by all concerned.

By law, there was nothing any of us could do until those nuts demonstrated they posed a physical danger to themselves and/or others.

"STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM THE MENTALLY ILL.

THEY WILL RUIN YOU."


Can't argue with that. The worst of it is the law is on their side.

Anonymous said...

I really felt for these families who faced up to their kin's illness and tried their best to be supportive and do the right thing by all concerned.

God, how I wish I had even that much support.

Just some honesty, if nothing else.

Silver said...

If you come from a "normal" family [like I did], and if you spent your entire life around "normal" friends and "normal" colleagues [like I did], then you are going to be shocked at the power of mental illness when you first cross paths with it.

Quoted for truth.

A friend of mine married a mentally ill woman. (How she hid it I'll never know -- "love is blind"-effect maybe).

She was a raving nutter. Totally impossible to reason with. No one who had the misfortune to interact with her concluded otherwise.

Long story short, he couldn't take it anymore and they divorce. She gets the kid! Can society possibly get more insane than that?

For the anti-government lunatic who is more worried about a definition of mental illness than its effects on society -- sigh, sorry to break it to you pal, but you're probably one of them.

Silver said...

these mentally ill families will close up ranks about one another and lie to the entire world about it [which includes lying to themselves about it]."


The worst thing about is they're not doing for the sufferer's benefit so much as they are to protect their own good names. (Can't have us associated with mental illness now.)

Meds actually help. A lot.

That raving nutter I mentioned was a totally different person when on medication. And she even admitted it and joked about it. (Bitter experience has taught me to leave the joking to them. It's like that Seinfeld episode in which Kramer breaks up with his girlfriend and Jerry and Elaine blurt out what they thought of her -- "the first break-up never takes.")

Anonymous said...

The worst thing about is they're not doing for the sufferer's benefit so much as they are to protect their own good names. (Can't have us associated with mental illness now.)

Exactly.

That's what I'm dealing with right now - to admit that the problem exists is to admit that something is "wrong" with them, which is simply unacceptable.

It's a terrible, paralyzing darkness, which envelopes and poisons the entire family.

Everything becomes disengenousness, dissembling, duplicity, and lies.

And, to a "normal" person, the way they clamp down on the thing, in unison, with a vise-like grip, to stifle any & all dissent, is simply stunning.

Kylie said...

"That raving nutter I mentioned was a totally different person when on medication. And she even admitted it and joked about it."

Yes. Many of them joke about it. One counselor told me people requiring anti-psychotic meds call going off their meds "going on vacation".

That's when my sympathy for most of them vanished. I know the side effects of the meds are no fun. But it's a question of the person with the problem suffers the side effects of dealing with it or everyone around him suffers from his refusal to do so.

But of course, thanks to modern liberalism, we all live under the tyranny of the weak and we're supposed to think because they are weak, it's not really tyranny.

Chicago said...

The huge number of people killed in the past 100 years in wars, massacres, air raids, gulags, attempted genocides, etc, were eradicated by ostensibly sane folks who organized and implemented it all. Loonies, when they get violent, do it at the retail level; the sane do it wholesale. I'm more worried about the cold calculations of the sane than I am about the mental ward escapees.

Anonymous said...

But of course, thanks to modern liberalism, we all live under the tyranny of the weak and we're supposed to think because they are weak, it's not really tyranny.

Wow - what a great phrase.

I just googled it, and I am getting two hits - an Oscar Wilde quote, and a 1962 movie based on an F Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Tuco said...

"But of course, thanks to modern liberalism, we all live under the tyranny of the weak and we're supposed to think because they are weak, it's not really tyranny."

It's more like tyranny of the geek. Look who runs Facebook, Google, Hollywood, and Wall Street.

Mortimer said...

"Loonies, when they get violent, do it at the retail level; the sane do it wholesale."

This is when sane people follow loonies like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Amin, or Pol Pot.

Fred said...

True. And Pournelle hits the nail on the head too. Increasing the ability to lock away people when they haven't committed a crime can lead to an increase in using it for political purposes. Russia in the darkest days of communism locked away thousands of political dissidents on the grounds that, if they disagreed with the wisest and most successful political system man had created (Communism) then they must be mentally ill.

Cynthia386 said...

The problem was not that Loughner was crazy, the problem was that he was violent. A bigger problem is that the left has romantic notion about violent people, you know like Che Guevara, and they keep letting them out of prison.